Argentina is the class of field hockey at the Pan Am Games.
That could be a problem for the Canadian women, who have to bump them off to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
The Argentine women destroyed Mexico 9-0, sliced through Canada 5-0 and routed the Dominican Republic 12-0 in the preliminary round.
A veteran team brimming with international experience, they have developed a reputation for tenaciousness. Their success also owes much to the legacy of superstar Luciana Aymar, regarded as the greatest women’s player of all time.
“It’s their national game for females,” Canadian women’s coach Ian Rutledge said. “It’s no different (from) hockey in Canada. The Argentine girls are superstars in their own country.”
The Canadian women, many of them competing in their first Pan Ams, got off to a robust start here with a 12-1 rout of the Dominican Republic and on Friday, they outplayed Mexico 4-0 to wrap up the eight-team preliminary round with a 2-1 record. Their quarter-finals begin Monday against Uruguay.
Rutledge, hired two years ago, is building toward a potential podium finish at the 2020 Olympics.
Midfielder Kate Gillis, who turns 26 next month, hopes to be around then, although she’s not discounting a victory here.
“If my body can take it, another four years will be no problem,” she said post-match. “A lot of people say that, because of the experience factor, you don’t hit your prime until about 28.”
Gillis, who was born in Toronto and attended high school in Kingston, recently transferred to the University of British Columbia from Boston College so she could play full time with the national team. Her father is Mike Gillis, former general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. Her mother, Diane, was once a long jumper on the Canadian track and field team. They are both here for support.
It was her mom who encouraged her to try out for the high school field hockey team in Grade 9. Gillis didn’t like the fact she had to wear a skirt while playing, but she put those concerns aside and made the cut in her first year.
“I was definitely a tomboy growing up, so skirts were not my thing,” Gillis said.
Gillis played a lot of hockey growing up: “I shot right, which was lucky.”
That’s because there are no left-hand sticks in field hockey, and only one side of the stick can be used.
On the men’s side, captain Scott Tupper grew up playing Triple-A hockey for the Vancouver Thunderbirds. He was also lucky to have been a right-hand shot, but thinks a lefty shooter in hockey can still make the switch.
“I think it’s a difficult shift at first, but it can be done,” Tupper said.
The Canadian men beat Brazil 9-1 and Chile 1-0, and wrap up the preliminary round Saturday against Mexico before Tuesday’s quarter-finals. Canada is expected to meet Argentina for the 11th consecutive time in the Pan Am final, but even if they lose the Canucks are virtually guaranteed a berth in Rio based on their recent World League success.
The women’s final is July 24, while the men’s final is July 25.